Skywatcher's Guide: June and July 2022

Navigation

Stars and Constellations

In June, the spring sky is now prominent overhead, along with the familiar Big Dipper.  The Big Dipper is high in the north, and the two stars at the end of the bowl can be used to find Polaris, our north star.  Also, the handle can be used to "arc to Arcturus", a bright star in the constellation Boötes. Then Hercules is just below towards the east.  Next, Leo the lion is very high in the west, with the constellation Virgo nearby to the south.  A few winter constellations are still visible, now very low in the west.  Castor and Pollux, the heads of Gemini the twins, are the most prominent, to the west-northwest.  The summer sky is now just starting to come up at the beginning of the night.  The bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the harp is towards the east-northeast.  In the southeast we have the constellation Scorpius the scorpion, with the bright star Antares.  Further to the south we can also see the constellations of Centaurus and Lupus the wolf right along the horizon.

In July, the last of the winter constellations are now gone, and the spring constellations are beginning to head to the west.  The summer constellations are now mostly up in the east.  We can easily see all three stars in the Summer Triangle, Vega being the highest in the east-northeast, Deneb a little lower to the northeast, and Altair to the east.  To the southeast we can see the Teapot of Sagittarius near the tail of Scorpius.  Also, to the north-northeast we can see the W of Cassiopeia the queen.

Interesting Stars Visible in June and July (during observatory hours)

Name / Designation Apparent Magnitude
(lower = brighter)
Distance
(light-years)
Notes
Arcturus -0.05 36.7  
Vega 0.03 25  
Capella 0.08 42  
Procyon 0.4 11  
Altair 0.76 17  
Spica 0.98 262  
Pollux 1.16 38  
Markab 1.25 140  
Deneb 1.25 3230  
Regulus 1.36 77 means "Little King"
Castor 1.58 52  
Polaris 1.97 431  
Alpheratz or Sirrah 2.07 97  
Denebola 2.14 36.2  
Enif 2.38 670  
Albireo 3.2 / 5.8 & 5.1 390 / 380  possibly a triple star system
Eta Cassiopeiae 3.5 / 7.4 19 480 yr orbit

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Solar System

Mercury will be visible in the morning sky for much of June but will be passing behind the Sun in mid-July.

Venus is visible in the morning sky, getting slightly lower each day.

Mars is getting higher in the morning sky, moving through Pisces and Aries.

Jupiter rises in the early morning in the constellation Pisces.

Saturn rises in the early morning in the constellation Capricornus.

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Calendar of Night Sky Events

Date Event
06/07/22 First Quarter Moon.
06/11/22 Appulse of Venus and Uranus. — Separated by 1.6°.
06/14/22 Full Moon.
06/16/22 Mercury at greatest western elongation. — Visible before sunrise.
06/20/22 Last Quarter Moon.
06/21/22 Earth at northern solstice. — Beginning of our Summer.
06/28/22 New Moon.
07/03/22 Earth at aphelion. — Our farthest distance from the Sun.
07/06/22 First Quarter Moon.
07/13/22 Full Moon.
07/16/22 Mercury at superior conjunction. — Passing behind the Sun.
07/20/22 Last Quarter Moon.
07/19/22 Pluto at opposition. — Best time to look for this dwarf planet.
07/28/22 Peak of Delta Aquariids meteor shower.
07/28/22 New Moon.

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Deep Sky

There are several open star clusters we can see this time of year. First, Coma Berenices (Bernice's Hair) is high in the west near the tail of Leo. Next, there is the Ptolemy cluster (M7) and the Butterfly (M6) in the southeast near the tail of Scorpius. Also nearby is the Wild Duck (M11) in the constellation of Scutum.

Now that the Milky Way is coming up, there are several globular clusters we can see. M3 is high in the west, in the constellation Boötes. Nearby, the famous Hercules Globular (M13) is high in the east. We also have M5 high in the south in the constellation of Serpens. Finally, for those with a clear horizon, the amazing Omega Centauri (C80) is visible low to the south.

For nebulae, we can see the Swan (M17), the Lagoon (M8), and the Trifid (M20) to the southeast in the constellation Sagittarius. The Eagle (M16) is nearby in the constellation of Serpens. The North America nebula is also in the northeast in Cygnus. For planetary nebulae, we have the Owl (M97) in Ursa Major high in the northwest. We also have the Dumbbell (M27) in the west-northwest in the constellation of Vulpecula and the Ring (M57) nearby in Lyra.

And now the galaxies: In Ursa Major to the northwest we have Bode's Galaxy (M81) and the Cigar Galaxy (M82), close enough to be seen together in a low-power telescope. Nearby in the constellation Canes Venatici we have the Whirlpool (M51), which is a pair of colliding galaxies. The Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) is also nearby near the handle of the Big Dipper. Then the Southern Pinwheel (M83) is to the southwest in the constellation Hydra. The Sombrero Galaxy (M104) is nearby in the constellation Virgo.

Interesting Deep Sky Objects to Observe during June and July (during observatory hours)

Designation Name Apparent Magnitude Apparent Size Distance
(light-years)
Type
Messier 31 Andromeda Galaxy 3.4 3° x 1° 2,900,000 spiral galaxy
Messier 44 Beehive Cluster 3.7 95' 577 open cluster
Messier 3 (in Canes Venatici) 6.2 18' 34,000 globular cluster
Messier 27 Dumbbell Nebula 7.4 8' × 6' 1,250 planetary nebula
NGC 7009 Saturn Nebula 8 36" 2,400 planetary nebula
Messier 81 Bode's Galaxy 8.5 21' 12,000,000 spiral galaxy
NGC 3242 Ghost of Jupiter 8.6 25" 1,400 planetary nebula
Messier 57 Ring Nebula 8.8 1' 2,300 planetary nebula
Messier 82 Cigar Galaxy 9.5 14' 12,000,000 galaxy

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the zodiac, and what is its purpose?

Most people are likely familiar with the zodiac in relation to horoscopes.  Horoscopes fall under astrology, which is loosely associated with astronomy but is otherwise not considered scientific.  However, the zodiac does play a role in astronomy as well.

The name zodiac comes from the ancient Greek word for animals, reflecting the various creatures represented.  But the origins of the zodiac can be traced back to the ancient Babylonian civilization around 1000 BC.  Many of the constellations we still use today were originally Babylonian.  What we know as the zodiac started off as a way to keep track of where the Moon traveled in the sky.

The modern definition of the zodiac is the band of the sky where we find the Sun, Moon, and planets.  This includes stars and constellations centered on the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the Sun in our sky.  The Moon and planets can travel up to 8° north or south of the ecliptic, but always stay confined to this narrow band due to the very flat nature of our solar system.

Around 500 BC the zodiac was divided into twelve "houses", each 30° wide.  These were named after a particular constellation, which is where we get the twelve zodiac signs most people are familiar with.  This is why the constellation Ophiuchus, even though it crosses the ecliptic, is not included with the other twelve signs.  Also, at this time, they did not yet know about precession, which is the very slow wobble of Earth's axis that causes the constellations to shift over time.  This is why the "signs" do not line up with their associated constellations today. 

If we want to be fully inclusive, besides the 13 constellations that cross the ecliptic, there are an additional 12 constellations that the Moon and planets can pass through, for a total of 25.  Besides the 12 traditional ones and Ophiuchus, there are Aquila, Auriga, Canis Minor, Cetus, Corvus, Crater, Hydra, Orion, Pegasus, Scutum, Serpens, and Sextans.  Sometimes the non-traditional zodiac constellations are called "parazodiacal" to distinguish them, but the ancient Babylonians didn't actually make this distinction.

One final thing to mention is what your sign means.  It refers to the "house" that the Sun was in when you were born.  So usually you won't be able to see that particular constellation on your birthday because it will only be up in the daytime.  But due to precession, sometimes you might be able to catch a glimpse of it right after sunset.

If you have any questions you'd like me to answer in the next issue of SWG, please let me know.  I'm also happy to take suggestions or comments, and also pictures if you'd like to send them.  Happy viewing!

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Date of publication:
2022